Des Moines packs a lot into six square miles midway between Seattle and Tacoma.
Along International Boulevard South/Highway 99, it’s a retail hub of businesses two miles south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with hotels, airport-parking services and a busy mix of stores and restaurants.
But entering past wooded ravines on the Kent-Des Moines Road or along the aptly named Marine View Drive South overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympics, it’s an oasis of views and outdoor recreation.
“All the services you need are in this little area,” says Highline Community College faculty member and 20-year Des Moines resident Bob Bonner, pausing on stroll along Des Moines Marina.
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Des Moines was homesteaded by settlers from Des Moines, Iowa in the 1880s and officially incorporated in 1959.
Though other pronunciations are often used, “de moin” (no “s” sounds) is the official one, and most commonly used by residents.
Walk through history
The scenic Marina is a popular local gathering spot with a wide walkway, long-term and day-use moorage for hundreds of boats, an Anthony’s Homeport/Des Moines Oyster Bar and Grill restaurant, seasonal outdoor farmers market and ample free parking.
Adjacent Des Moines Beach Park includes a rocky beach, shore and forest trails and the Heritage Trail and historic structures that highlight the birthplace of the town.
South of the Marina down a winding road off Marine View Drive South, Saltwater State Park is another popular destination for fresh air and recreation with 1,445 feet of saltwater shoreline, forest trails and an artificial underwater reef for divers.
Redondo, the southern tip of Des Moines past Saltwater State Park, originally founded as a resort before becoming a residential community, also has a small beach and boardwalk.
“We have a little bit of everything, from multimillion dollar waterfront homes to modest one-bedroom condos,” says
local resident Matt Klewin, who works as an agent for Windermere Real Estate.
Popular with retirees
Homes near the water tend to be most expensive, with less-expensive options nearer to International Boulevard. Single-family houses make up 73 percent of local real estate, with the rest condos and apartments and senior-housing communities.
Des Moines has long been popular with retirees; one of its best-known attractions is the castle-like Landmark on the Sound Event Center on 27 acres overlooking Puget Sound. It was built in the 1920s as a Masonic retirement home by the same architect who designed Mount Rainier’s Paradise Inn, and is now used as rental spaces for events.
As in most of King County, housing inventory in Des Moines is low and home values have been rising steadily, according to figures compiled by Seattle-based Zillow.com.
The median value of all single-family houses in Des Moines, not just those that recently sold, was $220,300 in April, up 8.6 percent year-over-year and 2.1 percent month-over-month, the Zillow Home Value Index shows.
The median apartment rent in Des Moines was $1,169 in April, up 7.8 percent year-over-year, according to Zillow.
Condo developments and apartment buildings overlook the Marina. Waterfront view homes recently available include a four-bedroom, updated 1961 home on a dead-end street for $460,000 and a four-bedroom, 1943 home with Sound and Olympic Mountain views for $419,950.
Other recent listings include a 1,690-square-foot rambler built in 1966 for $251,000; a two-bedroom condo for $140,000; a 700-square-foot condo for $41,000 and a four-bedroom house that needs work on a large lot near Saltwater State Park for $167,000.
Des Moines is considered “somewhat walkable” (meaning some errands can be accomplished on foot) and got a rating of 51 (out of 100) from Walk Score, a Seattle company that provides automated walkability ratings.
“Living in Des Moines means you’re going to hear airplanes, in some areas more than others,” says Klewin. “On the other hand, we have a fair amount of people who work at the airport, since it’s so close.”
Highline Community College’s 20-acre campus with almost 17,000 students is also a major local employer.
The main retail/business area is along International Boulevard; there are also businesses along parts of Marine View Drive, including a currently closed 1940s-era movie theater with vintage neon sign. Around the corner, the Des Moines Historical Society Museum is open summer Saturdays in Odd Fellows Hall that’s served as police station, jail, fire station, school and City Hall during its colorful history.
Retired teacher Jim Langston’s great-grandfather settled in to Des Moines in 1909.
“This was a bedroom community for Boeing when I grew up here, families all knew each other,” says Langston, now an active Arts Commission and Historical Society volunteer. “I live in a condo now, so I don’t know all my neighbors, but there’s still a good sense of community with the people and local businesses here.
“I’ve lived a lot of places over the years but Des Moines was always my home.”
Madeline McKenzie: firstname.lastname@example.org